Adweek Interviews Grey London CEO Chris Hirst About Taking On News International's Account | Adweek Adweek Interviews Grey London CEO Chris Hirst About Taking On News International's Account | Adweek
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Fast Chat: Grey London CEO Chris Hirst

Takes on News International's account amid hacking scandal

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The London office of Grey is central to Team News, the group of WPP agencies—including OgilvyOne and media unit M/Six—that last month won a pitch to handle all of News International’s marketing services needs. At the center of Grey’s involvement is London CEO Chris Hirst, who has been at the agency since June 2003. Of course, News International—the U.K. newspaper division of News Corp.—has been in the headlines for other reasons lately, chiefly investigations into claims of hacking cell phones and paying off sources. Just don’t expect Hirst, a circumspect and client-sensitive executive, to discuss that.

Adweek: As brand challenges go, how would you rate this one?
Chris Hirst: The center of the challenge really is that it’s a well-established fact that newspaper sales are in a year-on-year decline. There’s a cast-iron belief within News International and within the agencies that pitched and won the business that that’s not inevitable.

The U.K. parliamentary panel investigating the phone hacking claims certainly didn’t mince words. What did you make of that?
Honesty, I can’t comment on any of that. That would be crazy of me to comment on that.

But isn’t that core to your challenge here? Is raises some questions that you wouldn’t ordinarily have with any media brand, right?
Do you know what? I just can’t comment.

I associate WPP team pitches with banks, technology companies, cars. Why was it appropriate here?
Everybody knows that you can still achieve remarkable things through marketing communications, but the complexity of the environment is so different that increasingly you need multiple, different skill sets to be brought to bear on the problem. And for sure, multiple different skill sets are required here—it’s a big complicated brand with lots of different touch points to the consumer. I think the team approach is a perfect approach for it in that regard because it allows for whatever the right skill set is from within WPP to be deployed through one coherent team.

What’s Grey’s role within the team?
We’ll be equal partners. We’re already up at the first part of the process, which is really aligning everybody’s thinking so we can we can get to the client with an aligned point of view.

What other cross-WPP accounts have you worked on and how will that experience inform how you approach this account?
Vodafone is one. P&G is Grey’s biggest client and biggest client in London. P&G doesn’t call it the same thing but we have a team approach on P&G. It runs in a different way. We increasingly have a similar model with how we run some of our GSK business. One of our strengths as an agency is we pride ourselves in being open. We talk about a culture of [openness] and the whole point of that is that as an agency we try to approach things with the belief that we don’t have all the answers. We don’t think we know better than anyone else. We’re better and stronger together and actively seek out partnership with whomever we work with.

How will the Team News agencies be incentivized to collaborate?
There’s not a financial incentive. . . . All of the agencies realize, along with the client, that we will be better together. This will be a fabulous success if we all spend more of our energy going in the same direction rather than not. The pitch was run very much along those lines. And that’s why I think the agencies and WPP have been selected—because the client believes that we’re going to do that.

So, anything at all that you can say about the proverbial elephant in the room, given the investigations?
No, there really isn’t. Nope. That would be career limiting, I think it’s safe to say.

It seems like it would be a bad time to advertise and maybe a better time to look at PR strategies. Is that a fair assumption?
Let me think about that. (Long pause) I just don’t think I should comment on that at all. I’m sorry. I know that is the elephant in the room.